A dominating and widespread view is that evolutionary change is gradual and waits upon mutation. Likewise, it is thought that workers and queens of eusocial insects diverged gradually and stepwise. That is, rudimentary castes preceded advanced castes. This paradigm hinges on eusociality having evolved once in Vespidae, and primitively eusocial paper wasps lacking ontogenetic caste biasing (differentiation of castes during larval development). Using a phylogenomic approach this study shows strong evidence for two origins of eusociality in vespid wasps, wherein one origin is likely characterized by the sudden appearance of castes with physiological, and perhaps even morphological, differences established before adulthood (i.e. advanced castes). Ontogenetic caste biasing was likely present at the outset of eusociality in the most recent common ancestor of paper wasps, yellowjackets and hornets. This suggests that the definitive, non-temporal castes of eusocial wasps evolved from interactions between mothers and daughters, rather than same generation females. These results challenge the idea that castes began with only rudimentary differences. A model of stepwise caste divergence, which assumes an independent mutation event for each phenotypic caste difference, is unwarranted. It is hypothesized that phenotypic plasticity and cryptic genetic variation may explain how some eusocial societies emerged, and began with advanced castes. The results suggest that evolution can produce alternative phenotypes with many aspects of the phenotype being discrete at the outset. Thus, the emergence and divergence of castes in eusocial vespids was not necessarily a gradual process.
Master of Science (M.S.)
College of Sciences
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Piekarski, Patrick, "Advanced Castes at the Outset of Eusociality in Wasps (Vespidae)" (2017). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 5356.